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From Gladstone Box To Bahi Khata – How The Budget Tradition Evolved



For the longest time, visuals of the Finance Minister walking into the parliament to present the budget featured them flashing their briefcase for the media cameras. However, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in 2019, replaced the briefcase with the “Bahi Khata”. The move was aimed to relinquish the colonial practice of presenting the budget with a briefcase. British finance ministers used to carry a Gladstone Box to the parliament for presenting the budget. After Independence, this Gladstone Box was replaced by bags or briefcases.

The budget presentation has undergone major changes over the last seven decades. India’s first Finance Minister RK Shanmukham Chetty carried a leather portfolio bag while presenting the budget in 1947. Around the 1970s, the practice of carrying a hardbound bag began. While the colours of these bags or briefcases changed over the years, they became an integral part of the budget presentation customs. So, Nirmala Sitharaman walking up with the red Bahi Khata in her hands in 2019 heralded a new chapter in the history of budget presentation.

A Bahi Khata has been used by Indian households, neighbourhood shops, and small enterprises to manage their budget. Perhaps the inspiration behind Bahi Khata came from its cultural roots. In 2020, Nirmala Sitharaman presented the budget yet again with the Bahi Khata and said that it was time to get over the British hangover.

The Finance Minister said that carrying a Bahi Khata was easier.

The first budget to be presented after the COVID-19 pandemic saw the Bahi Khata getting a digital makeover with a tablet being used this time. The move was seen as an attempt by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government to lay emphasis on digitisation. It was also a compulsion brought in by the pandemic that required cutting on physical paperwork

The government also launched the “Union Budget Mobile App” to enable easy access to Budget documents.

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